Jon Stewart made his reputation as a smart political comedian and commentator on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show on TV, before quitting in 2015 to develop movie projects, of which the first was his excellent Rosewater. But this – heartsinkingly – is the follow-up. It’s a flaccid, toothless, supercilious political non-satire for liberals too fastidious to take sides or take action. The film perches on a fence of wry disdain and makes droll gestures of disapproval at the wasteful big-money awfulness of everyone’s political campaign. And it’s leading to a big tortuous plot twist which frankly isn’t convincing, despite the talking-head expert interviewee who is wheeled on over the closing credits to assure us that it is. What we’re left with is a bland cop-out, which incidentally won’t worry anyone yearning for Donald Trump’s second term.
Steve Carell finds some of his dullest form playing Gary Zimmer, a Washington DC political strategist for the Democratic party, desperately searching for the next big thing after the debacle of 2016. (Stewart may have been inspired by Stanley Tucci’s media-manipulator in the small-town political satire Swing Vote.) To Zimmer’s astonished delight, one of his minions finds a viral YouTube video of a retired Marine Corps veteran called Colonel Jack Hastings, played by Chris Cooper, giving a passionate speech about caring community values at a town-hall meeting somewhere in Wisconsin, where folks have been financially stricken by the recent army-base closure. The holy grail: a tough guy who’s also a progressive.
Cunning Zimmer duly shows up in hicksville (wrinkling his nose at all the niceness thereabouts) to persuade the grumpily authentic Hastings to run as a Dem for mayor and maybe something more if it all works out. Soon the top brass in Washington are excited; the cash rolls in for his campaign and the Republicans get fired up too – bringing in their ice-queen spin-doctor Faith Brewster, played by Rose Byrne, who seems to have some history and toxic sexual chemistry with Zimmer.
There are, arguably, one or two reasonable touches, such as the observation about punctuation on billboard ads, inspired by the notorious “Jeb!” campaign for the hapless Jeb Bush. But really, any single TV episode of Veep or Parks and Recreation has far more wit, fun and political zap than this great big laugh-free feast of self-congratulatory dullness. Zimmer himself never has any funny lines and the rules about making the leading man relatable – and making the Democratic guy basically nice – mean that he is never allowed to have any of that Satanic political glamour of pure wickedness that might have made his character interesting. The movie never permits itself the forbidden fossil-fuel of cynicism that might have given it some movement.
The talents of Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne are thrown away in the tiny roles of pollsters and online number-crunchers that Zimmer has brought in. It could be that much of their characters were lost in the edit, but certainly the film is not especially interested in the hot-button issues of Facebook and data-harvesting. The eerie absence of race as an issue in the film is also naive.
The story runs on predictable lines, with the underdog Hastings making exciting gains on the Republican incumbent; then his momentum stalls and there’s a dilemma – how nasty are his team prepared to be to clinch their win? And there’s that very exasperating ending, to which I can only say that in the real world, Zimmer, having raised serious amounts of cash from hedge-funders and the like, would take a pretty close interest in the bottom line.
The real finale, however, comes in the typography: the word “RESIST” is eye-catchingly picked out in the middle of the title, in fine Michael-Moore-lite style. Resist? Really? How? The movie has signed off with a pert little flourish to the effect that the whole system is broken, so maybe we should wish a plague on both their houses or neither. Either way, the supposed satirical attitude of Irresistible can’t conceal the fact that it’s contrived, unfunny and redundant.
• Released on 26 June on digital formats.
Source: The Guardian